Press hails Argentines

Buenos Aires - Argentina's media summed up the national mood as crestfallen but proud Monday after the extra-time defeat to Germany in the World Cup final, coming heartbreakingly close to their third title.

"Heart of champions" read the headline on sports daily Ole's website, with a full-page photo of midfielder Javier Mascherano embracing national hero Lionel Messi, who won the Golden Ball award for best player of the tournament.

"The dream is over. Argentina confronted a powerful Germany head-on, fought hard and created great chances," it wrote. "We lost the final 1-0, but we gave everything we had and returned to the (World Cup) podium after 24 years."

"Thank you World Cup team," it added, saying they "deserve the best welcome."

Messi and company are expected home Monday morning, with President Cristina Kirchner due to meet them on arrival.

Other papers chronicled the team's defeat alongside the violence that broke out Sunday night in Buenos Aires, where hooligans crashed an initially festive post-match party at the capital's iconic Obelisk monument.

The hardcore fans, known as "barras bravas," broke windows, looted shops and threw stones at riot police, who fired tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon in return -- causing the crowd of tens of thousands of people to rush from the area.

"It started as a party but turned into a pitched battle... with robberies, clashes and looting at the Obelisk," said daily La Nacion, which gave a toll of 15 wounded police and 60 people arrested.

But it said the match had left the nation "without the Cup, but proud."

"Elimination hurts like always, but pride swells like never before," it wrote, saying the team were coming home "without glory but with a clear conscience."

Newspaper Pagina/12 ran two large photographs, one of the Argentine players locked in an embrace at Rio de Janeiro's Maracana Stadium, the other of a little boy in a Messi jersey sitting atop his father's shoulders at the Obelisk after the match.

"Love is stronger," said its banner headline.

Financial daily Ambito Financiero quoted celebrated Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges: "Some defeats have more dignity than victory."

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